Mexico

The famous Barbones mask

Old Barbones
Old Barbones

Q: Wanted to run a mask past you for a quick glance. You may have already seen this floating around, but I’m currently trying to decide whether to purchase. Problem is that neither I, nor the seller have much of an idea of what we have. After looking on your site, I suspect it may be a Barbones mask from Mexico – decorative, 20th century (as opposed to the seller’s opinion of 19th century). The carving just seems so fine, it would seem too difficult for a regular folk artist.  John, 621

A: Your analysis is correct. Let me add a little. Robert Cordry in his 1980 book, Mexican Masks, has a lot to say about the ethnographic history to these impressive masks. He didn’t realize that it was all a made-up story for wealthy tourists who sometimes paid over $1000 for them. Janet Esser in Beyond the Mask in Mexico, 1990, tells all about this hoax. Masks made strictly for the tourist trade are called decoratives in Mexico. They have grown in popularity since the late 19th century and are now an established industry in Mexico, especially in the state of Guerrero.

Even by looking at this little photo we can see that yours is of very high quality and old– probably more than 50 years. If it was a traditional village dance mask it would easily be worth over a thousand. But decoratives are not purchased by serious collectors or museums.

I don’t agree with this. You can see many different Mexican decoratives at the bottom of the Mexico thumbnail page on this site. Someday these interesting masks will be valued as a distinct art form along with authentic dance masks and other Mexican folk art.

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